The sun was setting and the tuk-tuk drivers were swarming… welcome to Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s bustling and confusing capital city. The glossy, neatly paved Riverfront area boasts travel agents and tourist restaurants as far as the eye can see. A short walk will take you down crumbling streets as you wind your way through the market stalls, dodging scooters, cars and pedestrians alike. The intricate facades of colonial buildings peer out from the tangle of makeshift power lines. Venture further afield and the roads are no longer paved, the sides of the road are lined with shops and stalls cobbled together under awnings and selling all kinds of amazing brightly coloured things you never knew you needed.
The weather was surprisingly damp for the dry season.
Maybe not surprising for the locals, who seemed pretty casual about navigating the flooded streets, but surprising for us, the words ‘dry season’ had conjured up images of slightly less rain than ‘torrential downpour’.
Not to be deterred by a bit of rain we set out to explore the city.
We had drier weather as we shuffled around the grounds of the Royal Palace and marvelled at the time and effort that had gone into the myriad buildings and shrines.
The calm and quiet of this austere place seemed a world away from the bustling streets outside the gates.
By far the most fun way to explore the streets of Phnom Penh is from the comfort of a tuk-tuk, especially one in the capable hands of a well-informed and conversational driver.
But when you are done exploring and just want to relax and have some food there are plenty of dining options.
The riverfront area has plenty of touristy restaurants which you will pay a premium for, if you want something a bit more affordable, head away from the area and look for tasty street food, or my favourite, one of the many unbelievably delicious bakeries. (Top favourite—bread shaped like an alligator—quite possibly some of the tastiest bread I have ever eaten). We tried some of the tourist restaurants too and had some pretty darn impressive food—I was an instant convert to green mango and squid salad. Just the mention of it has meant that I am now struggling to complete the rest of this blog post as my thoughts have drifted to food.
While the rain was on hold we drifted up to one of the rooftop cocktail bars to watch the
sun set sky darken. No one else seemed keen to brave the outside area for a happy hour cocktail, so we had the space to ourselves while we sipped on various delectable mixes and watched the goings on along the Riverfront. As the skies darkened the Tom Jones music began, not upstairs in the bar, but down on the Riverfront as an enthusiastic mob of outdoor gym junkies began their slightly mad aerobic routine. Nothing is more relaxing than sipping rooftop happy hour cocktails while you watch other people being energetic in the tropical heat. Now we were truly on holiday.
We took a break from the green mango salads and decided to see what the local take on a pizza was like. Turns out it’s pretty awesome, probably helped by the Thai-made Kiwi brand cutlery…maybe.
On the subject of food…which a lot of this blog post has been about (Phnom Penh is a delicious city). A Cambodian ‘delicacy’ is fried tarantula. Yes, that’s right, tarantula. Now for those who don’t know me you will be unaware of the fact that I am deathly afraid of all spiders that do not fall into both the ‘tiny’ and ‘harmless’ categories. This category of spider that does not render me into a near catatonic state of fear consists mostly of jumping spiders and anything else well-behaved enough not to startle me. Tarantulas do not fall into this category.
I like to try new foods when I’m travelling, but I also like to avoid spiders. Especially the big ones. So what did I do when we splashed out on a fancy dinner at Romdeng, where one of their specialty dishes is crispy, crunchy and possibly tasty tarantulas? I ordered the green mango salad.
Yes, I’m a coward, but I’m a coward that had a delicious mango salad and I’m happy with that.
What foods have you been to cowardly to try? Have you tasted the crispy goodness of tarantulas, dipped in lime and pepper sauce?